John Arthur Roebuck's Speech in the British House of Commons on January 22nd, 1838
This intervention by John Arthur Roebuck, the agent of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, occurred just after the second reading of the Lower Canada Government Bill in the British House of Commons. The Hansard transcript of the whole debate can be read here.
Mr. Roebuck having advanced to the bar, proceeded to address the House. He began by stating, that it might, perhaps, be requisite at the commencement of his address that he should establish rather more strongly than he had done in his petition the peculiar position in which he wished to stand before that House.
He held in his hand an attested copy of the resolutions passed by the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, appointing him agent in this country, and if it should please the House, he would hand in that attested copy to be read by the clerk at the table. He also held in his hand a letter from the Speaker of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada, communicating those resolutions to him, which letter, inasmuch as it contained terms flattering to himself, he should also prefer to hand to the clerk to be read. He did not know whether it was the desire of the House to have them read, but there they were.
[The documents were handed in.]
Mr. Roebuck then proceeded to say, that he appeared before the House as agent for the House of Assembly of Lower Canada under peculiar circumstances, which he hoped would win for him the kind consideration of that House. Old associations might possibly induce him to forget, under the excitement of the things which he should have to say, the very novel situation in which he stood. He might in the course of his address to the House make use of some expressions, and he claimed from the House at the commencement of his address the right to make use of them. He should have to attack a succession of bad governments in Canada; and he should have to defend against a bill of pains and penalties the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. In defending that body he should have to attack her Majesty's Ministers, and in doing so, he did not suppose that he should be guilty of any offence towards that House, for he had a right to consider that the Ministers made no portion of that House. He did not consequently feel himself bound to show to them that respectful deference which he would show to the House; for it was always his wish to address the House with due deference and respect.
But the House had now before it two parties—the House of Assembly of Lower Canada on the one hand, and her Majesty's Ministers on the other. There was now on the table of the House a bill of pains and penalties, and that bill of pains and penalties was directed against a whole people acting through their assembled Representatives. And who, he would ask, had suggested that Bill? He would have to say, that it was suggested by the guilty parties on the present occasion, and who ought to be punished, and not the House of Assembly. It would be his duty to prove that every act of the House of Assembly had been framed in a spirit of wisdom, that all the acts of that body were wise, and just, and politic, and that they had advanced no demands which the interests of their constituents did not require them to put forward. He would have to show, that they had gradually obtained their demands, and that those demands had been acknowledged to be just, although the House of Commons was now, at last, called on to pass a bill of pains and penalties against a whole people for the representations they had made. That was a state of things, not brought about as the consequence of any misconduct on the part of the House of Assembly, but, on the contrary, he would say, that it was brought about as the consequence of the weakness, the vacillation, and the strange inconsistency of her Majesty's Ministers, not by the conduct of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. Such was the position in which he was placed.
He would have to throw himself before the House as the advocate of the absent—as the advocate of those to whom every bad passion and motive had been ascribed—as the advocate of those distant parties who were unfortunately subjected to vast difficulties, and who were now struggling for the liberties of their country. Such was the task he had undertaken, and he hoped he should not appeal in vain to the sympathies of a body of his countrymen. He would, therefore, confidently ask the House to hear him patiently in support of those who had no other advocate to defend them but the humble individual who then addressed the House, and who were about to suffer from a bill of pains and penalties which would have been a disgrace if directed against the servile inhabitants of Hindostan, but which was more calculated for them than for the free colonists of Great Britain.
What, then, was the defence he had to offer? That every act of the House of Assembly, which had been arraigned in Parliament or out of it, had been called for by the interests of their constituents.
But it might be said, that while he appeared as the advocate of others, he required to defend himself, and that he was a guilty and interested party. He was sure, however, that there was no one in that House who would make such a statement, however much he might be called a traitor and a rebel out of doors—he was sure that in that House he would not be so accused, as he could not there defend himself. But it might be supposed that he was interested in the separation of Canada from the mother country. If, however, the House would listen to him on a matter entirely personal to himself, he would beg to ask what interest he could have in the separation of the countries? What interest could he have in supporting a rebellion in the colony? He would entreat the Members of that honourable House to ask themselves whether any part of his conduct would justify the suspicion that he was in favour of separation, or interested in promoting rebellion in Canada. He was an Englishman, and all his hopes were connected with the mother country, and all his interests were connected with England. In England he had many who were dear to him, and there were many also who were dear to him in Canada, and it was therefore his wish to support the connexion as it was his interest to promote the well-being of England.
While it was possible with honour to keep up the connexion existing between Great Britain and Canada, no man would do more to maintain that connexion than he would; but the moment it became dishonourable he would be the first to ask for a separation. He would beg the House to recollect that all his interests of every description tended to make him wish for the continuance of the connexion with Canada, and he entreated the House not to think that he had any desire to promote rebellion, or that it was his interest to do so. He begged distinctly to say in the outset of his observations, that he was there as the advocate of the House of Assembly of Lower Canada. He had nothing to do with any other province, and he had nothing to do with any other subject but the grievances of which that body complained. He was not there to justify revolt—revolt must justify itself; but he was not there to defend it under any circumstances. He would make no distinctions between revolt in Canada and revolt in any other country. He made no distinctions.
He looked to Poland, and saw Poland in rebellion, but he did not defend the people of that country. He was not then, and never was, one to pass acts in support of rebellious rights. He looked to Spain, and he did not support rebellion there—he never did, and he hoped he never should. He might look all round the world. He looked to Belgium, but he did not support rebellion there, and though England was bound by the most solemn treaties to maintain the connexion of that country with Holland, yet Belgium was successful, and he therefore hoped she was right. But, for his own part, he could not understand that morality which sympathised with revolt in one country and condemned it in another—he could not understand those who talked with great feeling of the condition of the Poles, but with contempt of the poor peasants of St. Charles. It might suit some parties to say the rebellion in Brussels was an heroic act, it was successful, but it failed in unfortunate Canada, It might suit some parties to say they had called into existence a new world—namely, the revolted colonies of Spain in America; it might suit some parties to speak with approbation of George Washington, and the same parties might say that they had an abhorrence of rebellious Canada; but that was a sort of vacillating morality which he could not understand.
But he had nothing to do with revolt; and it would be his duty to show that the House of Assembly had nothing to do with what had taken place in Lower Canada. It was surely impossible to make people believe that a body of men amounting to eighty-six or eighty-seven and scattered over a country of from 700 to 800 miles in extent, could possibly be the authors of the rebellion which had taken place. For his own part he would say, that it was those who sought to make that assembly responsible for the rebellion in Canada who were themselves by their shuffling policy the guilty parties.
Having thus placed before the House the two parties who were to be tried—namely, the House of Assembly on the one hand, and her Majesty's Government on the other—he was about to prove that the House of Assembly was not only not guilty, but, on the contrary, that that body had deserved, and had obtained the approbation of their constituents, and the admiration of this country and of the world for the stand they had made against the despotic measures of Great Britain. They (the House of Commons) were, in fact, on the present occasion a jury, and he had to lay before them a number of facts connected with the history of Canada; and as they had to judge and decide betwixt Canada and the Government upon those facts, he hoped the House would patiently listen to the statements he had to adduce.
He should go through those statements for the purpose of showing that the Bill upon the table of the House was an unjust Bill—that the House of Assembly was guiltless, and that the Bill was impolitic. He should then endeavour to demonstrate that there was another method for dealing with the affairs of Canada, which, if adopted, would put an end to all the disputes and disagreements which existed; and that if the resolution on the table was carried—war, misery, and calamity would be the consequence—war in Canada, and perhaps over the world, and calamity of the worst description to the unfortunate Canadians. First, then, as to the injustice of the Bill.
But before proceeding, he would ask the House, for the sake of convenience, to separate the history of Canada into four periods, the first extending from 1763 to 1810; the second from 1810 to 1828; the third from 1828 to 1834; the fourth from 1834 to the present time.
In 1763 Canada was ceded to Great Britain, and up to 1774 was governed by the laws which previously prevailed in the colony. In 1774, the Government brought in a Bill, which, with certain reservations, established the French civil law in Lower Canada. That Bill also established the criminal law of England in the colony, and it further established the jury system, and to a certain extent, the English law regarding evidence. Now, any lawyer, and he saw many around him, would at once perceive the strange anomalies which such a hotchpotch must produce. In the first place, they had the civil code of France, and in the second, a criminal code founded on the English law; and it was clear that such a system could not work well. But why were those changes introduced into Canada? In the year 1774, it so happened, that the English colonists on the Continent of America, were in a state of open rebellion. There had been a spirit raised amongst them, which rebelled against the domination of the mother country. They said, "We cannot bear it any longer; you seek to impose laws upon us which are oppressive and tyrannical in their nature, and we can no longer submit to them." But, while we had those colonists in revolt, we had a French colony which had been conquered in 1762, and ceded to us in 1763. What then did we do? We created a French party in Canada in order to oppose them to the puritanical fanaticism of the English colonists who were in a state of revolt.
In confirmation of that statement, he would refer to a speech made by Lord Lyttelton on the subject, to show that there was an intention on the part of the Government of that day, to create a French feeling in Canada—a feeling, which had since been called mischievous and abominable, but which was cherished by the Government as long as it suited their purposes. In alluding to the apprehensions which were expressed of the increased power which this would throw into the hands of the French colonists, Lord Lyttelton observed:
... that he was not apprehensive of these consequences; but that if British America was determined to resist the lawful power and pre-eminence of Great Britain, he saw no reason why the loyal inhabitants of Canada should not co-operate with the rest of the empire in subduing them, and bringing them to a right sense of their duty; and he thought it happy, that from their local situation, they might be some check to those fierce fanatic spirits that, inflamed with the same zeal which animated the roundheads in England, directed that zeal to the same purposes, to the demolition of regal authority, and to the subversion of all power which they did not themselves possess; that they were composed of the same leaven, and whilst they pretended to be contending for liberty, they were setting up an absolute independent republic, and that the struggle was not for freedom, but power, which was proved from the whole tenor of their conduct.
And to put down that revolt, (continued the learned Gentleman) what did we do? We established the French law in Canada, against which he had heard persons discoursing who had no knowledge of it—we cherished French feelings which certain persons represented as mischievous, for the purpose of creating prejudices in the minds of the people of England. We did all that we could to make the Canadians French at that disastrous period of English history. That was the first instance of the conduct of England towards Canada, to which he wished to call attention. What was the next?
In the eighteenth year of George 3rd, we had received a bitter lesson at the hands of rebellious colonists, by the refusal of a demand which, had it been conceded at the beginning of the disputes, would have secured for England the fairest of her North American colonies; but which, refused till it was wrested from her by force of arms, stood, as a record, to her shame, and, he feared, did not redound much to her sense of justice. In that year a declaratory act was passed, by which it was provided, that no rates or taxes should be levied on the colonists of Canada without the consent of the local legislature; and in 1791 a solemn pledge was given by the Imperial Parliament that there should be no raising of taxes or appropriation of revenue in the colony without the sanction of the representatives of the people.
In 1794, a communication took place between the Governor of the province and the House of Assembly respecting the revenue. That was a part of the subject which it might be somewhat difficult to make the House understand. The revenues of the colony might be divided into three parts, In the first place, there were the revenues raised by acts of the provincial Parliament; secondly, those raised by acts of the British Parliament; and thirdly, the casual and territorial revenues. In regard to the revenues arising from their own acts of Parliament there could be no question; but he was about to lay claim to the control over those revenues raised by acts of the British Parliament, and also to the control over the casual and territorial revenue. To these the House of Assembly was entitled from the arrangement entered into by the Governor, Lord Dorchester, who told the House of Assembly that if they would transmute the revenues raised under acts of the British Parliament into a civil list, to be raised by the act of the Canadian Legislature, they should obtain the control of the whole. That was in 1794; but the royal assent was not given to the Canadian Bill at that time.
In 1796, however, the pledge was given that the Canadians should have the control of their revenues, but that pledge was not redeemed till the 1st and 2nd of William 4th. The Canadians performed their part of the agreement with Lord Dorchester, but it was only after long delay that the Government of England had redeemed the pledge which they had given. And then they were to be told that it was a been on the part of the Government to fulfil the promise they had given—that the Government had acted with great liberality, and done a great deal for Canada, and that the acts of the House of Assembly since that time were acts of the deepest ingratitude. He, on the contrary, would say, that it was the Government who had broken faith with the House of Assembly—that up to the passing of the act of the 1st and 2nd of William 4th, the Assembly was in the right, and the Governments of this country in the wrong, and that Ministers were now endeavouring to take advantage of the injury which had been inflicted by England upon Canada. He hoped the House would excuse him for reading the correspondence to which he had alluded. It was painful to himself to be compelled to do so, and he feared it would be tedious to the House. The learned Gentleman then read a portion of Lord Dorchester's message to the House of Assembly, which was as follows:—
The Governor has given directions for laying before the House of Assembly an account of the provincial revenue of the Crown from the commencement of the new constitution to the 10th of January, 1794. First, the casual and territorial revenue, established prior to the conquest, which his Majesty has been most graciously pleased to order to be applied towards defraying the civil expenses of the province.
He hoped there would be some attempt to show the injustice of the demand of the House of Assembly, to those revenues thus solemnly given up by the Governor, Lord Dorchester. He wanted to know wherein the injustice consisted, and why the House of Assembly was to be assailed for demanding control over the casual and territorial revenues.
But, in the second place, Lord Dorchester further stated, that the duties levied on articles imported into Canada, and the revenue arising from the licences granted for the sale of spirits, would be given up as soon as the Assembly had passed laws providing for the support of the civil government. There were various duties imposed by provincial acts for the pay of officers of the provinces, and for other purposes. The message then went on to state that an account of all the monies taken out of the pockets of the Canadian people should be laid before the Assembly, with an account of the disbursements, together with the amount of the diminution of the Colonial revenues by the expenses of collection, and the House of Assembly was of opinion that every circumstance of this very important part of their business and duties ought to be constantly before their eyes, so that at the very outset of their constitution, they might guard those important branches of it from that corruption and abuse which had brought misery upon almost every nation.
Now, was not this information, on the part of the then governor, who, being himself an Englishman, was accustomed to a representative Government, to persons who were not so accustomed—was not this information, he repeated, sufficient to induce the House of Assembly to direct their attention and to keep it fixed upon the appropriation of the immense collection of the revenues of the province; and did it not contain solemn pledges on the part of the Government to give up the whole of the revenues of that province to the control of he House of Assembly? This house would see why he urged this topic so strongly: it was one of vital importance to his case; it was that which the House of Assembly had claimed up to the present hour, and for the making of which they were now about to be punished by the Imperial Parliament.
Now, he had heard very often quoted—he would not say where—the evidence given before the select Committee which sat upon Canadian affairs in the year 1828. He would refer to the evidence given before the committee by Mr. John Neilson, who had taken a very important part in these transactions. In his evidence, Mr. Neilson laid it down distinctly that it was considered by the House of Assembly that this claim was their creed—one of the thirty-nine articles of their political religion. They had since learned the importance of a control over their own revenues, and they had never given up one iota of the demand; their governor had told them to demand all those revenues; he had told them to keep vigilant in their own concerns; they had ever acted up to his instructions, and had never lost sight of that demand.
Mr. Neilson was asked, "Are you aware that there is no instance of a colonial act repealing a British act?"—Answer, "We do not pretend any such thing."
"Do you not admit that in the Quebec Act of 31 George 3rd, part of the act of the 14th George 3rd was distinctly repealed, and the remainder of it distinctly confirmed?" Mr. Neilson replied, "That is not the act referred to; chapter 88 is the Revenue Act, but the Revenue Act was not mentioned in the act of 1791. There was a new constitution given to the country, and not a word said about the act of 1774, and it raised a dispute so early as 1794, and upon that dispute the Government at home, by means of their governor, told the Legislature that they would repeal the act if they would grant similar duties to the same amount; they did so, but the Government never recommended to Parliament to repeal the act; in fact somebody or other in the colony advised against it at that time. Now, such being the state of affairs, they thus continued, until the year 1810; the Government had a certain quantity of money appropriated, and they did not go beyond that appropriation, and therefore they never called upon the House of Assembly for any more money. The act gave them a certain revenue, and that revenue they were to take. But whenever the House of Assembly inquired in what manner the money was disbursed and expended, they were told that with that they had nothing to do, as they did not pay the expenses of their own civil list. To this the House of Assembly replied—'Then we will do so.'"
And it so happened that on the making that demand by the Assembly certain members for making that proposal were sent to prison out of the Assembly. Such was the way in which the colonies were governed—such was the manner in which irresponsible power was used in the colonies, that for the making the demand to provide their own civil list, three men were taken out of the House of Assembly and thrown into prison. And why was this? The explanation was clear and simple. The officials of that country he was about to speak of—the official party, backed by the powers of the Colonial office, were the cause of all this.
That party at once said—"We do not like to be paid by the House of Assembly;" and why? America is a very economical nation; England is far from being so; the English scale of expenditure is very unlike that of the Americans. The Governor of Lower Canada receives as much as the President of the United States, who was at the head of a nation second to none on the earth. What the people of America thought sufficient for the pay of their President was thought hardly adequate to maintain the expenses of a delegated governor from England. This feeling ran through all the official ranks in Canada; they compared themselves with the English, while the Canadian people compared themselves with the Americans.
They see that in America things were carried on well and cheaply, and the Canadians were desirous to cut down the scale of their expenditure to that of their neighbours the Americans, while, on the other hand, the English Government, with reference to the colonists, thought with the expenditure of millions to keep up the establishments according to the extravagant rate of their own country. The official party in Canada were, of course, desirous to continue to be paid by this country instead of by the vigilant body of the House of Assembly, who were now filled with notions of American economy, and they consequently strove to fight off the control upon the part of the House of Assembly, and from this, he would tell the British Parliament, had arisen all the fever, all the disputes, all the ill blood, and all the passion which now existed in that colony: to the resistance by the official party to the investigation of their accounts and of their responsibility to the assembly, he could trace all these events—to that resistance he could trace the desire for an elective legislative council—to it he could trace the desire to have a control over the judicature of the country—indeed, there was not a single thing of mischief or dispute which he could not trace to the resistance on behalf of the official party.
He should now be again obliged to quote the evidence of Mr. Neilson with regard to the financial disputes in Canada. He quoted from page 74 of the "Minutes of Evidence taken by the Select Committee on the Civil Government of Canada."
Mr. Neilson was asked—"Does the House of Assembly also lay claim to the amount of 5,000l. per annum in lieu of the territorial revenue of the Crown?" Answer.—"The House of Assembly has laid claim to the territorial revenue of the Crown, because it gave 5,000l. a-year in the year 1794 or 1795, after the governor had told the Legislature that the Crown gave up its territorial revenue to the province."
"Does the House of Assembly contend, that 5,000l. a-year is to be appropriated by the House of Assembly?" Answer.—"They would say, that if the Crown were not to come forward and ask for more money, it is gone; but if the Government comes forward and asks for more, they may say that money is misapplied, and that it ought to be applied in such a way."
Now this at the time was thought a very heinous offence, but Sir George Murray in a dispatch, which was not given in the present collection before the House—he knew not why it was omitted, perhaps it was omitted for particular reasons—but Sir George Murray, in one of his dispatches laid before the Select Committee, acknowledged that such must have been the case; that so long as the Government of Lower Canada did not ask for more money, they would have no right to inquire into the appropriation; but when it stepped over the bounds and sought more, of necessity an inquiry as to what became of the money would be called for, and, in short, Sir George Murray gave up any possibility of resistance in such a case to that very just demand of the year 1816.
Then came this question put by the Committee to Mr. Neilson—"Will you state the progress of the disputes when those principles came practically into effect upon Sir John Sherbrook in 1818 calling upon the Legislature to provide for the civil establishment?"
Mr. Neilson thus replied:—
"I have got already to the year 1799, when the Bill was passed giving a sum in lieu of the Act of 1774. Things went on tolerably well till the year 1809: the expenses were increasing very much, and the Assembly got alarmed, and they had a quarrel with the Governor. It was then said, that Great Britain had been paying a great part of the money during all this time; whenever they applied to control the expenditure, they were told 'Great Britain pays this; what business have you to interfere?' They said, 'Well, then we would rather take the whole of the expenses upon ourselves, so as to control the whole, for by and by, it will be saddled upon us.' Then they made the famous offer to pay the Civil List, and they heard no more about it. The war then began in 1812, and they gave all that they had, and more than they had, for the war; they authorized the issuing of paper money in the country, and there was no quarrel about the civil list or anything else; but after the war Sir John Sherbrooke came out; he found everything in such a state of disorder that he represented it at home, and the Government here told him to get the accounts settled every year in the House of Assembly. Then came the acceptance of the offer of 1810 to pay all the expenses of the Government; they said, 'We will take all the expenses from you;' the expenses in the mean time had augmented from about 40,000l. to about 60,000l.; the Assembly then said, we will pay the whole of the expenses;' they then agreed to give the sum the Governor asked, which was in addition to the revenue that he assumed to be appropriated, and they reserved to themselves the right of examining into all the expenditure the next year."
The next question was this—"Was any Bill passed that year, or was a resolution passed by the House of Assembly promising to indemnify the Governor?" Answer, "Precisely so. An address for the money. The next year the Duke of Richmond asked for an addition of 16,000l. the Assembly began to get alarmed; they appointed Committees to examine into the expenditure, and to check every item of it, and they began to vote it by items, and they left out all the increased expenses, but offered to pay the expenses as they stood in 1817, and they passed a Bill and sent it up to the Legislative Council, allowing all those expenses."
Now the House would remember that this was a supply bill, and attend to the remainder of Mr. Neilson's answer. "The Legislative Council threw out that Bill on the ground that it was not safe to take an annual bill."
The Executive and Legislative Councils, though two bodies, were in fact one body, which controlled the expenditure and held all the patronage of the colony, and thus determining not to take an annual but insist upon a permanent civil list in one whole sum, and to escape from responsibility, they took upon themselves to throw out that Supply Bill. Perhaps it would surprise the House to be told that where the House of Assembly had once thrown out a Supply Bill the Legislative Council had done it three times over; the House of Assembly had for two years, and as he thought for good reasons, refused the supplies. He challenged contradiction, and for this it was now sought to take from the Canadians the power of legislating for themselves.
Mr. Neilson was then asked the question, "Did not the Legislative Council also object on the ground of the vote being made by items?" Answer, "No, because it was an annual Bill. At the same time the Assembly made good its vote of the preceding year, because they conceived themselves bound in honour not to have any quarrel about what had been advanced upon their address, although there were some items of expenditure that they objected to, and the Bill passed."
The Bill was passed in spite of the example set by the Legislative Council.
"Then the Duke of Richmond unfortunately died, and in 1820 there was an irregularity in calling; the Assembly, and there was no vote and no estimate laid before the Assembly. Sir Peregrine Maitland convened the Assembly before the returns were all made, and the Assembly objected that the Governor ought not to convene the Assembly till the House was complete, because they said, that he might convene it before the time fixed for the returns; he might convene it before half of them were returned. Things remained in that state till the news came of the death of the King, and then there was a dissolution. At the close of 1820 Lord Dalhousie came, and he asked that whatever they had to give should be given permanently. They told him at once that they would not give anything in addition to what they had already given permanently. Of course nothing was done; they passed, however, a Bill in some shape or other, which it was said would be less objectionable; it went up to the Legislative Council, and it was refused; it was refused by the Legislative Council upon the ground of its being detailed, and not being for the life of the King. The next year Lord Dalhousie asked for a Bill for the life of the King; the Assembly sent home a very long address to this country as reasons for not complying, and the Legislature finally broke up without any Bill being passed. Lord Dalhousie then asked for a sum of money, which they said they could not grant till they had an answer from this country to their representations. The session finished without any Bill being passed, and then came the famous union project."
Here again the official party played the puppets of the machinery and the controlling power which was to deprive Canada of her constitution. They were known in that country—the world knew perfectly well who they were.
Mr. Neilson then went on to state—"In 1824 the receiver-general failed, and the appropriations already made by the Legislature, were not paid; the Members got alarmed and some of them, against which I protested, voted a reduction of one-fourth of the expenditure to meet the empty state of the chest. That, of course, was not accepted—it was rejected in the Legislative Council. In 1824 Lord Dalhousie came home, and Sir Francis Burton took the government."
Now, there was one very remarkable circumstance relative to the failure of the receiver-general, which was illustrative of the way in which the colonies were governed, and of the necessity for very great supervision on the part of the Legislative Assembly. The fight then going on in this case was a fight against responsibility on the part of the officials, and on the part of the House of Assembly enforcing that responsibility. The House of Assembly said that this man owed money, and they demanded the account—the accounts were refused. The receiver-general failed for 100,000l., and yet he was told that this was an old story. Let the House remember that the receiver-general at the present moment owed 150,000l. for principal and interest.
True, it was said that the Canadians had got his estates, but they, if sold, would not cover one-tenth of the whole sum of 150,000l. principal and interest, which had been 280 robbed from the Canadian exchequer,—and by whom? Why by one of the party who talked about the honour and the prerogative of the Crown, and who would not give way in the least degree to the demands of the House of Assembly. The House of Assembly had tried him and found him a bankrupt, and then when they applied to this country, whose officer the defaulter was, to make good the loss, this country refused to do so. Now that was the history of the year 1824, when Lord Dalhousie, without the orders or the sanction of the Assembly, took the money, and the Legislative Council threw out every Bill of possible utility to the colony, and in 1827 and 1828 agents were sent over to this country to complain of the manifold grievances under which Canada laboured.
Now what were those grievances? He begged the House to bear them in mind. They complained of the conduct of the Legislative Council in throwing out the fresh Bill, granting the necessary sums, and regulating the limits of expenditure they complained of the rejection of the Bill giving the inhabitants of towns a voice in the management of their local concerns; and of the Bill for facilitating the administration of justice; they claimed an amendment in the jury laws, introducing jury trials in the country districts, thereby diminishing the expenses, and they sought a Bill improving and rendering more commodious the gaol for the district of Montreal, for regulating the office of justice of the peace, for regulating the militia service, for increasing the security of public monies, and for a provision for an authorized agent to reside in this country.
These were the complaints brought against the Legislative Council in 1828, and a Committee was appointed by this House to inquire into the complaints of the people of Canada. That Committee acknowledged the justice of these complaints, and solemnly asserted that the Legislative Council did not harmonise with the opinions of the Canadian people, that there should be some alteration in the constitution of the Council which should make it harmonise. The Committee did not point out the means, but declared that as then existing, the Council did not contribute to the good government of the province.
He had now got to the year 1828, at which point every one of the demands of the House of Assembly respecting the control of their own revenues was declared to be just, to be wise, and to be provident. In that year the Legislative Council was condemned—that year it was when the administration of justice in that colony was declared not to be such, owing to the peculiar political opinions of the judges, as it ought to be; and now he came to the fact on which the House of Assembly had been arraigned—viz., for having, after all their claims of 1828 had been granted, and their grievances redressed, that still out of mere mischief, and with a factious spirit, they had been led on by a set of demagogues to bring forward new demands—new claims upon this country, and to fabricate new grievances.
Now his assertion was, that the old grievances remained—that they had not been redressed in point of fact, and that if they had made any new demands, it was because they had discovered that the mode formerly suggested for remedying the evils had proved insufficient in the hands of her Majesty's Government.
In the year 1830 it so happened that a Liberal Government as it was called, came into office; that Government was composed of persons who had been accustomed to fulminate against the oppressors of Lower Canada—that Government was composed of burning patriots, whose passion for liberty knew no bounds—in fact, of individuals who were supposed to be the friends of Canada. There were then supposed to be in power men who had laid down broad principles of liberty, who had passed their lives in uttering pretended declarations of liberal opinions; and in consequence of the advent of these strong and sworn supporters of the liberal cause, the feelings of the Canadian people were naturally excited, their expectations raised, and they said, "Now that we have got our Liberal friends in office, the men who had fulminated against the Legislative Council, the mischiefs would be cured and the plague stayed."
They expected such things, but like many others they had been disappointed in their expectations. When they came into office this Government had to consider the alteration propounded by the Committee of 1828; and what were the chief of those alterations? He would quote a very short passage from the report:—
One of the most important subjects to which their inquiries have been directed has been the state of the Legislative Councils in both the Canadas, and the manner in which these assemblies have answered the purposes for which they were instituted. Your Committee strongly recommend that a more independent character should be given to these bodies; that the majority of their members should not consist of persons holding offices at the pleasure of the Crown; and that any other measures that may tend to connect more intimately this branch of the constitution with the interest of the colonies would be attended with the greatest advantage. With respect to the judges, with the exception only of the chief justice, whose presence on particular occasions might be necessary, your Committee entertain no doubt that they had better not be involved in the political business of the House, Upon similar grounds it appears to your Committee that it is not desirable that judges should hold seats in the Executive Council.
Then the Committee went on to say, that they lamented the late period of the Session had prevented a full investigation into all the parts of the subject; but that if the Legislative Assembly and the Executive Government were both put on a right footing, means could be found to remedy all minor grievances. What was the consequence of the alteration made in the numbers of the Legislative Council? Why, the feeling of the majority of the Council remained the same as before. The people said:—
"It is true that you have put into that body a larger number of individuals, but it does not therefore follow that you have altered the character of the Assembly, or made it more in accordance with our interests. The majority against the people is the same. You may have chosen some two or three individuals who are justified in assuming the character of independent Members; but it is also true, that the bulk of those whom you have selected is composed of persons who ought not to be in the Council at all. We know them to be our enemies. They have declared against us. We know that the determination of the Assembly with regard to our interests is the same that it has been heretofore. And this we call keeping the word of promise to the ear only. It is the word, but not the spirit—the letter, but by no means the substantial reality. For it is illusive to suppose, that the mode in which the instruction has been carried into effect has altered the essential character of the Assembly."
Was he justified in thus describing the alteration? He could hardly suppose, that her Majesty's Ministers would oppose the authority of the Commissioners whom they had sent out—of Commissioners sent out under the auspices of Government to inquire into the reality of the grievances of which the Canadians complained. What did these Commissioners say of the Legislative Council? He would read a passage of their Report to the House. It was as follows:—
On the 28th of January, 1831, an Address from the Assembly to the Governor, signed by Mr. Papineau the Speaker of the House, contained an assurance to the following purport:—
'It will be our earnest desire, that harmony may prevail between the several branches of the Legislature, that full effect may be given to the constitution as established by law, and that it may be transmitted unimpaired to our posterity.'
And towards the close of the same year a Bill passed the House of Assembly constituting the Legislative Council a court for the trial of impeachments, without any demand being put forward that it should be made elective. The conciliatory dispatch of Lord Ripon, dated 7th July, 1831, was, moreover, received in the province in a manner that might have seemed to encourage the hope that a more harmonious state of public feeling was on the point of being restored. But notwithstanding these appearances the hostility which had long existed between the two legislative bodies was not really abated, for on the 8th of March, in that very year, 1831, two resolutions were carried in the Assembly, (though they were afterwards struck out of a petition to the King, into which they had been designed to be inserted, declaring, that 'the appointment by the Executive of Legislators for life was fatal to the tranquillity and prosperity of the province, and incompatible with good government.'
On the 29th of March also, the Council, on their part, placed on their journals a series of resolutions aimed at the most important privileges of the Assembly, and particularly at the one that, after a contest of many years' duration, they had just succeeded in establishing—we mean the exclusive right to control the financial concerns of the province. And it is not unworthy of remark, that in the very first of these resolutions they lay down as a positive law a practice which (however salutary) rests, we believe, in England only on a resolution of the House of Commons, adopted, like any other of their standing orders, at their own discretion, and revocable at their own pleasure.
By a subsequent resolution, the Council likewise assumed to itself the dangerous right of judging what the contingent expenses of the representatives of the people ought to amount to. With these signs, therefore, of a continued hostility before us, we are disposed to ascribe the fact of no formal demand for an Elective Council having been made before 1833 simply to the expectation entertained by the popular party, that in consequence of the recommendations of the Committee of 1828, very essential alterations in the composition of the Council were on the point of being effected. An alteration was, indeed, produced in 1832. The judges ceased to take any part in its proceedings, and thirteen new Members, unconnected with the Government, were added in the course of the year; but that these nominations were unsatisfactory to the Assembly, and that the disappointment they felt in the alterations of the Council was the cause of their fresh proceedings against it, may be inferred from the fact, that in the next Session of the Legislature was voted the first Address in which a demand for an Elective Council was put forth.
The nature of the expectations that had been raised in the minds of the prevailing party in the Assembly, respecting the nomination of these Members, may probably be correctly gathered from the ninety-two resolutions of 1834, and particularly from the 24th of them, in which it is asserted, that 'such of the recently appointed Councillors as were taken from the majority of the Assembly, and had entertained the hope, that a sufficient number of independent men, holding opinions in unison with those of the majority of the people and of their representatives, would be associated with them, must now feel that they are overwhelmed by a majority hostile to the country.'
We certainly do not think, that either the recommendation of the Committee of 1828, or anything that subsequently issued from a competent source, warranted an expectation that the Legislative Council was to be made entirely to harmonise with the feelings of the Assembly; nevertheless, that something of the kind was expected by the popular party does seem beyond dispute. We do not feel called on to pronounce an opinion on the propriety of the appointments in question; and the more so as they were narrowly scanned in the cross examination of Mr. Morin before the Committee of 1834; but we may, we think, venture to say, that whilst they satisfied the terms of the recommendation made by the Committee of 1828, as far as the matter of the pecuniary independence of the Crown was concerned, they scarcely produced an alteration in the political character of the body, to which the new Members were aggregated.
He inferred from this language held by the Government Commissioners that the House of Assembly was perfectly justified in asserting that the political character of the Legislative Council was the same in 1833 that it had been in 1828, and that their demand for an Elective Council was just what they had a right to expect. So long as they entertained hopes, they said— "We won't propose the introduction of anything new into our constitution. We won't propose any unnecessary change in the existing state of things. We are not the advocates of any wild theoretical forms of Government; nor are we at all desirous to strike at the root of our institutions. No; we will apply to the Home Government. We will show them that we are moderate in our demands. We will ask them whether they think, that this Assembly, (the Legislative Council) ought to be composed of individuals entertaining feelings of well-ascertained hostility to the great body of the people, and with a corresponding array of the feelings of the people against them?"
The application was accordingly made, but it was not acceded to. "And now," said the Canadians, "we are placed in a new position; we pressed upon the notice of the British Government those alterations which we thought were best suited to their views, but they have rejected our demands. Since, therefore, the Government will not consent to the introduction of these changes, let the people themselves say whether they cannot do it."
A convention of the people was then proposed, and an elective Legislative Council demanded. What was the consequence? It might possibly be imagined, that men on the other side of the Atlantic were without feeling—that they might be insulted with impunity, and called all manner of injurious names with perfect safety. And the then Secretary of State for the Colonial Department (Mr. Stanley), in writing to the Colonial Government, termed this a "national convention," thereby pretty broadly intimating that it was copied after the National Convention of France. It was easy to conceive what conclusion was suggested by that statement of the then right hon. Gentleman.
Let hon. Members mark the extraordinary want of acquaintance with the actual state of one of our most important colonial possessions which that right hon. Gentleman thus displayed when he thought of comparing this convention or assemblage of the people of Lower Canada with the National Convention of France. Why, conventions of this description were matters of every day occurrence in America. It was a matter of course that, when it was proposed to introduce, or to discuss the introduction of, any change into the constitution of a state, such a convention should be held. And, at the very moment that he (Mr. Roebuck) was addressing the House, a convention was being held in Philadelphia, with a view to remodel the constitution of that important independent state. But at that convention the people were all quiet, peaceful, and deliberative, and never once thought of making the National Assembly of France their model. Instead of Robespierre, Danton, or Marat entering into their minds, as individuals to whose sentiments they should in any way conform, the spirits under whose auspices the proceedings of the Philadelphia convention were guided were those of Franklin, and Jefferson, and Washington.
But it happened, in some way or other, that people were so occupied here with matters occurring in their own immediate neighbourhood, that they could not enter into the feelings, nor conceive what was the state of mind of other nations, but exclaimed, "Good God! would you have a renewal of all the horrors of the Revolution of 1793? Why, this Monsieur Papineau is nothing more nor less than the successor of Robespierre!" He (Mr. Roebuck) had heard this gravely stated in this country. He had heard Papineau likened to Robespierre, and he had heard the French Canadians called the French republicans. He had known that demand for a national convention to be asserted on the highest authority to be nothing more nor less than an attempt to set up a French republic in Lower Canada—an attempt, in short, to set up an absolute democracy.
When the inhabitants of Lower Canada were informed that this statement had been made with reference to the proposed convention, they were naturally indignant, and several Members of the Assembly expressed their surprise that a Minister acquainted with the state of that country should use such language. He thought they were wrong. Nay, he was sure, quite sure, that the House of Assembly was, for once, very greatly in error. But it was a pardonable mistake to imagine, that a Colonial Secretary might possibly know something of the feelings of a country for which he was Minister, and concerning which he was about to introduce legislation. He must acknowledge, however, that the Canadians were positively wrong. It was quite clear that the right hon. Gentleman knew nothing of the matter in hand.
Nevertheless, the remonstrances of the Canadians did not receive the slightest attention. Perceiving, at length, the right hon. Gentleman's total ignorance of the subject, they said, "This announcement of yours is an insult to us;" and at the moment there was another circumstance which kindled and increased their indignation. They said, "Having added to our Legislative Council, which you in your wisdom deem all that can be necessary to remove our grievances, you taunt us, when we ask you for a national convention, with this statement from your Colonial Secretary, and, at the same time, in order to enforce your authority, you deliberately butcher our people."
And they were justified in the employment of such language, for at that moment a circumstance took place at Montreal which would never be obliterated from the memory of the Canadians. For some trifling cause, the military in that district were called out, and a number of the poor peasantry of the country were shot. This sunk deeply into the minds of the Canadians. They said, and said naturally, "The Government can hardly be considered as parental which sanctions such doings in a country so peaceable as ours is, where there has been no disturbance, no riot, that would not at once yield to the authority of the constable's staff; yet we find a Government calling itself parental murdering our people, and thrusting their dominion down our throats." The people of Canada had never forgotten that cold-blooded cruelty, nor would they ever forget it, and recent events had served only to render deeper that already indelible impression. "And," exclaimed the learned Gentleman, "if you care not what you are about, there will something come that will read you a lesson which you in your turn will never forget, and which will again humiliate England after the fashion in which your forefathers were humiliated."
It was in the year 1834, that the House of Assembly first evinced a real and serious determination to stop the supplies. There were no supplies voted in that year; but the House of Assembly passed resolutions, as they had done before, stating their grievances and demanding their removal. The Committee came to an untimely end—and why? Changes took place very often in the Cabinet of England, and every change, it seemed, must make a change in the Colonial Department. Mr. Stanley went out of the Colonial-office, and Mr. Spring Rice came in.
Soon after Mr. Spring Rice became the Secretary for the Colonies, an interview took place between that right hon. Gentleman and the person who was then acting as the agent for Lower Canada, at which he was present. Mr. Spring Rice stated, that he was young in office; that he was a new and untried man; that he wished to place the commencement of his official career in a favourable light before the world; that he wished to do justice to the Canadians; and that all that he desired was, that his hands might be left unshackled, and his own good intentions be allowed to have the fullest scope. Upon this statement the agent for the House of Assembly—he must say at his persuasion, and he now begged pardon of the colony for having given such advice—but at his persuasion, the agent lent a favourable ear to the right hon. Gentleman's statement, and left him with the conviction that what he had promised would be carried into effect.
In that interview Mr. Spring Rice solemnly promised, in his (Mr. Roebuck's) presence, and in the presence also of the agent of the House of Assembly, that he would not interfere with the prerogative of the House of Assembly, and at the same time admitted that that body had been most unconstitutionally dealt with by Lord Dalhousie, and also in another instance when money was taken out of their chest. "Never," said the right hon. Gentleman. "will I bring an act into the British Parliament which shall justify me in taking the money out of the colonial chest; the prerogatives of the House of Assembly shall be left untouched, and I will trust entirely to the good feeling of that body to extricate me from any temporary difficulty in which I may find myself involved in consequence of the liberality of my conduct."
Such was the language held by Mr. Spring Rice whilst he was "a young and untried man;" yet he had hardly got hold of his office before a dispatch was sent out ordering the governor of the colony to pay the very official servants whom the House of Assembly had determined not to pay; and the right hon. Gentleman supposed that he got himself out of the difficulty by this sort of special pleading:
"I have not done," said he "what Lord Dalhousie did—I have not taken the money out of their chest. I did not go the unconstitutional length of asking the House of Commons to take the money out of their chest; but I ordered the governor to pay the money, and to draw upon the Treasury for the amount."
If he recollected right, it was thought necessary, during the last Session of Parliament, to pass a resolution in the House of Commons to enable the Colonial Minister to do the same thing. But Mr. Spring Rice was alive to no such necessity: he took the whole order of the matter upon his own responsibility. And this certainly was a case in which the people of Canada did not expect that a Colonial Secretary who had so gravely and so solemnly pledged himself not to infringe the prerogatives of the provincial legislature would take upon himself to issue such an order as that which proceeded from Mr. Spring Rice, upon no other than his own responsibility.
Succeeding events had justified the opinion of the Canadians that such a course was not consistent with the principles of the constitution, because last year, when a similar step was about to be taken, it was deemed necessary that a resolution of the House of Commons should be first obtained. No wonder then that the House of Assembly was incensed.
It was made a matter of complaint against that body that it refused to vote the supplies in 1835 as well as in 1834. In 1834 they refused to vote supplies in consequence of their determination to demand a remedy for their grievances. In 1835 they resolved not to vote an amount of money because the head of the colonial department in England had so unwarrantably strained his power as to direct the payment of those servants of the colony whom they had determined should not be paid. That determination on the part of the House of Assembly was well known to the colonial authorities in England, was well known to Mr. Spring Rice, at the time the head and chief of those authorities; but in spite of that knowledge Mr. Spring Rice directed the money to be paid.
Then, said the House of Assembly, "we will not pay this money back; you knew our feeling and our determination upon the matter; you have ordered the money to be paid in spite of us; we will not reimburse you."
Accordingly in the year 1835 the House of Assembly again refused the supplies. Be it marked and remembered, however, that these two years, 1834 and 1835, were the only two years in which the supplies were really refused by the House of Assembly. Unfortunately for the good intentions of Mr. Spring Rice, just upon the very instant that all his schemes were rife—just as the extended plan, the great and statesmanlike affair which was to startle all beholders was about to be transmitted from the Colonial-office, it so happened, as the right hon. Gentleman was passing down Pall-mall, somebody met him and told him that he was out of office. This was unfortunate; but it proved to be the fact, and the right hon. Gentleman had since ceased to be the Colonial Secretary.
But there was one remarkable circumstance which took place before the right hon. Gentleman went out of office, to which he wished to direct the attention of the House. It had been brought as a charge against the House of Assembly that they were so little careful of the independence of the judicature, that because a certain judge held opinions contrary to their own, they withheld his salary, and would not place it upon the civil list. Hence it was concluded that the House of Assembly desired to exercise an undue and improper control over the judicature of the country. Now it so happened that just before Mr. Spring Rice went out of office information was received at the Colonial office of the appointment of Mr. Justice Gale; and when the right hon. Gentleman was called upon to confirm that appointment he wrote to the governor of the colony in these terms:—The learned Gentleman read the letter to this effect:
That it was at all times of the highest importance, and more especially at a moment like that which then existed, that no person partaking of the character of a political partisan should be placed upon the bench in Lower Canada.
He hoped, therefore, that the Canadian bar would be found capable of furnishing some gentleman of more calm and temperate views than the individual recommended. When he adverted to the line of conduct taken by Mr. Gale in 1828, and to his connection with certain measures of that time, he (Mr. S. Rice) very much feared that he would be looked upon with distrust by a very considerable portion of the community in Canada. Under these circumstances (he added) he was not disposed to recommend the confirmation of Mr. Gale's appointment.
Now, government news did not travel very fast, as he had had reason to know; and it so happened that the news which carried out the right hon. Gentleman's dismissal from office travelled more rapidly than the right hon. Gentleman's refusal to confirm the appointment of Mr. Justice Gale. Lord Aylmer, therefore, finding that the right hon. Gentleman had been dismissed, and having received no communication from him relative to Mr. Justice Gale, took it upon himself to confirm that Gentleman in his seat upon the bench, at the same time writing to Lord Aberdeen, the new secretary for the colonies, stating the reasons why he did so. Lord Aberdeen thought the explanation sufficient, and allowed Mr. Justice Gale to remain upon the bench.
But the House of Assembly was of opinion that a man whose conduct had been such as to give rise to such grave and serious objections on the part of the previous secretary for the colonies could never be expected to gain the confidence of a great portion of the community over which he was to act as judge.
"Therefore," said the House of Assembly, "we, being the representatives of the community, and knowing that justice depends for half or more than half its influence upon the opinion of the people for whom it is administered—knowing, too, what the opinions of the people are with respect to Mr. Justice Gale, and seeing that his conduct has been so solemnly impugned by the head of the colonial department in England, we, in our representative capacity, and acting in accordance with the views of Mr. Spring Rice, will not allow his salary."
This was the true history of the matter with respect to Mr. Justice Gale; and when charges were brought against the House of Assembly he wished to know why the whole truth was not told. He remembered a great impression being once made upon the House of Commons by the statement of a colonial secretary that the House of Assembly (against which the secretary wanted at that time to make out a case) had refused to reimburse Lord Aylmer for the expense he had been put to in his efforts to protect the colony from the visitation of the cholera. It was said that Lord Aylmer had expended 7,000l. for that purpose, and that the House of Assembly had refused to repay him, upon the ground that he had exceeded his authority in making the disbursement. A statement of that kind was made by a gentleman filling the situation of colonial secretary; but it was afterwards proved that that gentleman must have been guilty of some culpable negligence in reading or arranging his information, as every one of his assertions turned out to be untrue.
In the first place, the sum expended was 700l., not 7,000l.; and in the second place, Lord Aylmer, when he applied to the House of Assembly, was repaid at once. Yet months went over, during which the impression obtained against the House of Assembly that they were so base, so bad, so dishonest, so utterly heartless, as to refuse the repayment of a sum which had been expended for a purpose so humane and necessary as that of endeavouring to prevent the access of a terrible pestilence. The person who made that statement was Mr. Stanley. This was the way, indeed, in which successive Governments talked of the House of Assembly, and it unfortunately happened that the House of Assembly was not here to answer for itself, nor could its defence be attempted, except by chance, and by the voice of one man against the voices of a hundred.
He remembered in earlier days reading the history of one of the matchless characters of antiquity, who said, that his character had been assailed for a life, and could not be defended in an hour—that his assailants had occupied many years in poisoning the public mind against his character, and that when he was brought to the bar of trial for life or death, he felt himself in such a position that he could not wipe off the stain which those artful assailants had been careful to implant upon the public mind: he felt, therefore, that he stood before a jury almost condemned before he was heard. That matchless character, with whom he became acquainted in the course of his scholastic reading, was Socrates.
Like the life long assailants of Socrates, men were in the habit of getting up in that House, and with a total disregard of truth, or a total ignorance of facts, and making assertions with respect to the House of Assembly which they knew could not be answered, except after the lapse of a considerable time, during which the poison of their statements would be allowed to eat its way in the public mind.
Statements of this kind had frequently been made by persons holding high and responsible situations in the Government, but who seemed utterly careless of whether their statements were true or false as long as they produced the impression desired. He (Mr. Roebuck) maintained that this partial dealing with the truth, this garbling with evidence, was more suitable to Old Bailey practitioners than to those who advised her Majesty and directed the councils of the State.
He would now return to the stream of his narrative. Upon the dismissal of Mr. Spring Rice, Lord Aberdeen was appointed to the colonial secretaryship, and with the administration of which that noble Lord was a member, was originated the bright idea of a commissioner, and a commissioner was in consequence appointed. But it so happened that the Government of which Lord Aberdeen was a member did not stand—it was not permanent. The succeeding administration, however, was exceedingly delighted with the idea of the commission.
But, not wishing to take anything which assumed the appearance of an improvement from their opponents, they determined to do something that should be their own, and with characteristic intelligence and zeal they at once destroyed everything that was good in the commission; for, instead of confining the responsibility of the commission to one man, they determined to extend it to three. And how did they extend it? What character did they give to their commission? They compounded it of three different sets of politicians. Of these three commissioners the first was a high Tory, the second (the terra seemed contradictory, but there was no other to supply its place) a Tory-Whig, and the third a Radical-Whig. These three men went out to Canada, bound together by one secretary.
What did they go to do? To inquire. True; they went to inquire, but about what? The grievances of the people. But the grievances of the people were best reflected by the body which had been elected as the representative of the whole of them. The House of Assembly, therefore, very properly said, "We are the people; we are returned as the Representatives of the people in a manner that you cannot impugn—you do not pretend to say that we do not represent the opinions and feelings of the great majority of the people—why, therefore, send out a commission to supersede us who assemble here under the sanction of an Act of the British Legislature, whilst the commission comes out only under an order of the Crown?"
However, the commission went out; and if he (Mr. Roebuck) wanted anything that should justify in every particular the proceedings of the House of Assembly in Lower Canada, he would point to the report of the Commissioners to furnish him with that justification. Every part of it afforded a complete justification for every act of that branch of the Colonial Legislature.
First and foremost, there was a sort of see saw as regarded the constitution, but all the facts adduced in the report went to the complete justification of the House of Assembly. There was a good deal of parade about the report—a good deal of sound and fury; first, there was the full broadside of the commission, then the single gun of Sir Charles Grey, and then the replication of Sir George Gipps; and what between the broadside, the single gun, and the replication, there was a vast deal of confusion in the report; but those who were enabled to see their way clearly through it, could not fail of arriving at the conclusion, that in every particular the House of Assembly had been right.
He would read a passage from the report, which, if it had any meaning at all, would go directly to the proof of that assertion. He quoted now from the general report—the general broadside of the Commissioners. The passage ran thus:—
For a number of years the Council, keeping, as it did, in close union with the executive, prevailed; but in process of time the inherent force of a popular assembly developed itself; and in the great contest that ensued about money matters, the Assembly came out completely successful.
That was to say that in a dispute which had lasted from the year 1810 to the year 1828, the Assembly at length prevailed. It was to be assumed, then, that the Assembly was right.
During the financial struggle, continued as it was for more than a quarter of a century, it was only natural that other collateral causes of difference should arise; and, if we were to examine into these, we believe we should also find that in every one of them the Assembly has carried its point.
That was to say, that for upwards of a quarter of a century the House of Assembly had not demanded a single thing which was not ultimately granted to them; the inference of course was, that they had demanded only that which was right. The commissioners continued:
As a few instances, we will mention the right of the House to accuse and bring to trial public officers; their right to appoint an agent in England"—he (Mr. Roebuck) hoped that that would satisfy the House at least upon the point of agency—"and their right to control their own contingent expenses; their demand for the withdrawal of the judges from political affairs, or from seats in the legislative bodies or the executive councils, and for the surrender of the proceeds of the Jesuits' estates. All these are points on which contests have taken place between the two Houses, and in everyone of them the popular branch has prevailed, and the Council been successively driven from every position it had attempted to maintain. The Assembly, at the same time, by attacking abuses in the administration, and bringing charges against numerous officers of the Executive, succeeded scarcely less in exposing the weakness of the Government than of the Council.
It was very strange that the word "weakness" should be introduced into that part of the report. How was it that the House of Assembly became successful? Not because the Government was weak—the Government was strong enough if it pleased to put down the House of Assembly—the reason why the Assembly succeeded was, because the Government was wrong. The report proceeded:—
Both the Council and the Government have been worsted in many a struggle that they never ought to have engaged in; and if the Assembly has in consequence grown presumptuous, we apprehend that such is only the ordinary effect of an unchecked course of success.
The next was, he thought, one of the most extraordinary statements ever put forward upon a subject of this kind:—
In the course of these protracted disputes, too, it has happened that the Assembly, composed almost entirely of French Canadians, have constantly figured as the assertors of popular rights, and as the advocates of liberal institutions, whilst the Council, in which the English interest prevails, have, on the other hand, been made to appear as the supporters of arbitrary power, and of antiquated political doctrines; and to this alone we are persuaded the fact is to be attributed that the majority of settlers from the United States have hitherto sided with the French rather than the English party. The Representatives of the counties of Stanstead and Missisquoi have not been sent to parliament to defend the feudal system, to protect the French language, or to oppose a system of registration. They have been sent to lend their aid to the assertors of popular rights, and to oppose a Government by which, in their opinion, settlers from the United States have been neglected or regarded with disfavour.
Now, he begged the House to observe in the next sentence the manner in which the Legislative Council sought to extend British feelings, and to protect British interests in the province. If he understood anything about English feelings or English interests in the colony, it would mean this; that English feelings were in favour of a free representative Government, and opposed to every thing which had the appearance of arbitrary power—that English feelings were in favour of Municipal Institutions which subsisted in England, and opposed to the system of centralization which obtained in France. The Commissioners went on to say:—
Even during our residence in the province we have seen the Council continue to act in the same spirit, and discard what we believe would have proved a most salutary measure, in a manner which can hardly be taken otherwise than to indicate at least a coldness towards the establishment of customs calculated to exercise the judgment, and promote the general improvement of the people. We allude to a Bill for enabling parishes and townships to elect local officers and assess themselves for local purposes, which measure, though not absolutely rejected, was suffered to fail in a way that showed no friendliness to the principle.
Now, what was that principle? The principle of representative Government. They were very often told, that the Legislative Assembly was the great assertor and vindicator of the English interest in Canada. He asserted the precise contrary; and he had quoted evidence from the report of the Commissioners themselves to show that in the only instances in which it had ever done anything, it had done all it could, to support, protect, and maintain, the principles of arbitrary power. He had proved, that the Legislative Council was French so far forth as it was favourable to its own arbitrary power, and English so far forth as it could create a prejudice against the House of Assembly.
He must observe how remarkable it was, that British merchants, on going out to Canada, should all at once be so very much struck at the absence of a registration-office in that country, when, as was very well known, there was no general registration-office in England. It was a curious fact that in this country, with the exception of the counties of Middlesex and York, there was no office for the registration of deeds, mortgages, &c. How was it, then, that merchants on going to Canada all at once discovered that an establishment of that kind was essential to the protection of their interests?
Some ingenious person might, perhaps, discover the cause; but he (Mr. Roebuck) confessed that it came not within the scope of his powers of penetration. In the midst of all the contention upon the subject, it had invariably happened that the House of Assembly had wished to promote all the real and substantial advantages of an office of registration; but they said, "We will not pass such a Bill as shall throw the poor persons of the country into the hands of a notary."
Perhaps the House would excuse him if he entered into a short explanation upon the point. It so happened that under the old English law, mortgages might be effected upon land over and over again, and for more than twice its value, without the possibility of inflicting any kind of punishment upon the person by whom the money was obtained. But by the French law, if a mortgage for more than the value of the land were effected, it would be classed with the offences coming under the generic term dolus, and which meant nothing more nor less than that an offence of this kind amounted to felony.
The House of Assembly found that in consequence of the wholesale introduction of the English law in the manner of which he (Mr. Roebuck) had already complained, no punishment was attached to an offence which they had always previously been taught to regard as a crime. They found that, according to the English law, which was new to them, a person who mortgaged his land for more than its value, could not be punished.
"Therefore," said the House of Assembly, "we will endeavour to get at this class of offenders by establishing a law which shall be in accordance with our old law of Selionat." A Bill having that object in view, accordingly passed through the House of Assembly, but the Legislative Council threw it out. And yet the Legislative Council called itself the defender and assertor of English interests in the colony, and constantly complained of the absence of an office of registration.
In the Bill passed by the House of Assembly, the means were afforded of establishing a registration-office, or an institution that, in all respects, should be tantamount to such an office; but the Legislative Council refused to take it. Why? Because, in reality and in truth, they did not desire to see a system of registration established—they did not desire to make fraudulent mortgages a crime, but they did desire to have the means of creating a prejudice against the House of Assembly.
If there were one thing which more than another distinguished the institutions of England, it was the manner in which all local affairs were left to the management and control of local authorities. In this respect the institutions of England afforded a strong contrast to those of France, where the pernicious system of centralization placed the management of all the affairs of the country in the capital. He would explain this point in a few words, by quoting the language of Mr. John Nielson, to whose testimony he liked to refer.
Mr. Nielson, in his examination before the Committee of 1828, was asked, "Are persons who settle in the townships, holding land upon the English tenure of free and common soccage, exposed to any other difficulties than those which arise in the administration of the courts of law?—Mr. Nielson replied, "I do not think that those people complain of anything except that they are far out of the way; because, unfortunately, the grants were made to them in a remote part in preference to the grants being made nearer the St. Lawrence. But, their great object has been to obtain a representative in the assembly of the province; and they have met in their usual way upon Stanstead Plain, and have declared that they were satisfied with the Bill that was passed by the Assembly, and they have petitioned the Assembly and the Council to pass that Bill. They say that in the event of the Bill passing, they think they can get a remedy for all their grievances; that the first thing they want is to get a representation in the assembly of the province, and the assembly of the province is willing to join them in redressing their grievances; but any person that by chance happens to have connection with the townships, goes and speaks as if he was deputed by the townships. We have had twenty different stories told us in that way; but the moment they have representatives of their own to speak for them, everybody will believe them, and there is no doubt they will get a remedy for everything they complain of. There is one thing that is desired to give them, which they have in the United States, and that is the power of regulating their own little local concerns, which, I conceive, contributes very much to the prosperity of the United States; every district of the country regulates matters of common convenience, such as roads and bridges—what can be done by an individual is done by a common effort of the whole community, as determined by the majority; whereas, in the townships, they can get nothing done without delays and expenses."
Mr. Neilson was then asked, to "describe the difference between the state of things in that respect in Canada and in the United States?" He answered in these terms:—"In Canada we have been plagued with an old French system of government: that is to say, a government in which the people have no concern whatsoever, every thing must proceed from the city of Quebec and the city of Montreal, and persons must come to the city of Quebec and the city of Montreal to do every thing;, instead of being able to do for themselves in their own localities. In the United States they have the English system, by which every locality has certain powers of regulating its own concerns, by which means they regulate them cheaper and better; whereas with us, a man must make a journey to Quebec; he must go to a great expense; he must bow to this man and bow to that man, and rap at this door and rap at that door, and spend days and weeks to effect a little improvement of a road, or something of that kind, of common convenience to a district; whereas all that is done in the United States, without going out of his own small district."
Now that was precisely what the House of Assembly wanted to do. They passed a bill—passed it more than once, by which the people in the townships, against whom they were supposed to entertain so strong an animosity, were to have the control over their own concerns. The Legislative Council, however, invariably threw out the Bill, because they said it was tainted with the principle of representation. Could anything afford a stronger proof that the real support of English interests was in the House of Assembly, and that the Legislative Council was the advocate only of those narrow and arbitrary views which were diametrically opposed to every English feeling?
He now came to the demand of the House of Assembly for an elective council. He had shown that this demand was warranted, first by the report of the Commissioners, and next by the conduct of the Legislative Council, which conduct had been so bad as to give rise to the admission, even amongst those by whom it was supported, that it required reform. He had shown that the Council was now in precisely the same state as it was when that admission was made. He had shown that the people themselves were dissatisfied with it; and finally he had shown that the House of Assembly had asked in a quiet, decorous, and respectful manner that the people of the country might be allowed to meet in a national convention to determine whether or not the elective council were fit for them.
The answer of the House of Commons to that demand last year was a peremptory refusal; but, at the same time, the House of Commons gravely and solemnly stated by its resolutions, that the Legislative Council required reform. Upon that occasion, the House of Commons again solemnly maintained the demand of the House of Assembly for a reform of the Legislative Council; for, in the resolutions which were passed at the same time that an elective council was refused, the House said "No—we will not grant you the elective council, but we see that you must have a reform in your Legislative Council; at the same time, we will take away your money, because for the last two years you have refused to vote the supplies"—and because the House of Commons could not pass a bill in time to sanction the taking away the money, they sent out to the governor of the colony instructions to ask the House of Assembly again to vote the supply.
He now came to what he must regard as the very peculiar proceeding of the present Government in the dispute with the House of Assembly. The House of Commons and the House of Lords had voluntarily declared, in a series of resolutions to which they had severally and mutually agreed, that a reform in the Legislative Council was needed: at the same time, they bade the Colonial Governor demand the supplies of the House of Assembly, after having infringed the constitutional rights of that body in the most marked and extraordinary manner.
He would be frank in this matter. He knew what would take place in Canada. He told the House what would take place, and his prophecies were verified to the letter. When the resolutions of last year went out the necessary consequence was, that every man in the colony asked himself "Are we to bear this? What is the alternative? It is clear that the Imperial Parliament, paramount in England, and indeed over the whole of its great empire, has decided against us; we have, therefore, no hope through the ordinary means of obtaining our desires."
"Is there, then, no alternative?" was the national question which every man put to himself. It was put by the leaders of the people to the people themselves; and the answer of the people was, "The power of the Imperial Parliament is so great that it may override us under any circumstances; therefore, we must submit."
The determination come to by the leaders was, to counsel the people to submit. He did not say, that they did not expect a day to arrive when some other alternative might not present itself; but the result was, they determined to submit. At the same time they said, "We are to be called together by the governor—he is to present to us the resolutions of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Those resolutions are to be presented to us as a whole, and if the governor gives us a fair opportunity of saying to our constituents that we have done all that we could do, and that all has been done for them that the Parliament of Great Britain has determined, we must yield, and for the present submit to the demands of the Government."
Such were the feelings—and he was bold in saying these things—he would pledge himself that such were the feelings and intentions with which the members of the House of Assembly went to Quebec. The resolutions were placed before them as a whole, but what was the demand of the governor? Money, money, money! But, said the House of Assembly, "is there not something else in the resolutions? Is it all money, money, money? Is there not some acknowledgment of abuse in the resolutions? Are you come only to ask for money? Have you not any authority for effecting some alteration in the Legislative Council?"
Why did they ask this? Because, in point of fact, there had been circulated in Montreal, with a sort of demi-official authority, a list of the new Council. That list was withdrawn. It was not acted upon; and for four long months things went on shilly-shally dilly-dally—the colonial department on one side, and Lord Gosford on the other, with a great country there in a state next to revolution, and with a representative body anxious for an excuse—anxious for the means of saying to the people, "we have got all we can, all that the Imperial Parliament have proposed, and we must submit."
But what was it they sent? They sent the governor with these resolutions in his hands, but with nothing of redress, nothing to satisfy the pride as well as the vanity of these people; nothing conciliatory, but all that was grasping, after money, money, money. At whose door did all this lie? Why, at the imbecility of the Colonial-office.
Did the House believe that if there had been a man of weight and of mind to lead in these affairs there could have been such delay upon such important points? Good God! to those who sent out all sorts of people to all sorts of places, were there no means of sending out a man post-haste to the governor of Lower Canada, begging him, for God's sake, to go down to the House of Assembly with a proposition for an altered Legislative Council, at least before he asked for money, entreating him not to insult that Assembly, not to say to them, "we do not care anything for your feelings, you who represent the feelings of the whole body of the people. True it is, we admit that the Legislative Council have done all that is mischievous; this we admit by the report of our commission, this we admit by the solemn censure of a resolution of Parliament—all this to us is as nought—we have the power to ask for money, and that is all we regard?"
Why, any man of common sagacity would conceive that at least it was intended, when communicating those resolutions to the House of Assembly, that the governor should go down with some such proposition as that of a thorough investigation into the abuses of the Council. Why was that not done? It must be supposed that justice was asleep; that the Colonial-office was in that happy state of repose in which it could not even hear the murmurs of the people, although they were so loud as to startle every one else. Nothing could awake it from its slumbers. What cared the Colonial-office at the Canadian people being insulted by this mode of proceeding? It was a very easy thing to get at the Exchequer; therefore, if a revolt did take place, why, it must be put down. It might cost something, to be sure, but that could not be helped; besides, an opportunity might, at the same time, be obtained of putting down the House of Assembly, and that was something.
Well, what took place besides? Before Lord Gosford met the House of Assembly he was exceedingly careful to insult the leader of the people there. It was well known that three months before the meeting of the House of Assembly Mr. Papineau attended various meetings of the people. The leaders of the people discovered at the time of these public meetings that the people were not prepared for the alternative to which he (Mr. Roebuck) had alluded. What did Lord Gosford do? He waited three months, and then he did that which all the advocates of Canada had been unable hitherto to do—he brought the grievances home to every man's door.
Hitherto the advocates of Canada had been obliged to address the Canadian people through their understandings. They had said to them—and he (Mr. Roebuck) acknowledged that he was one who did so—"These are encroachments upon your privileges—watch them well. The effect, though not mischievous now, may be so hereafter. The words of Lord Gosford may be a warning to you."
This was a warning to the nation: but being in themselves happy, and not disposed to do anything violent, those good people, although they did support systematically their representatives, yet they did nothing more. But Lord Gosford came and dismissed by wholesale the militia officers and magistrates, thereby making every man feel himself personally insulted—and these were the people he was to conciliate! Could anybody wonder, after seeing that the resolutions were not carried out, and after seeing that nothing was done to satisfy one of their just demands, the justice of them acknowledged over and over again, that the members of the House of Assembly should say, "We will not be accessory, by paying this money, to our own dishonour and disgrace. We will not yield to this unrighteous demand."
Well, the House of Assembly separated, and then what happened? Lord Gosford proceeded to revise the magistracy. He did not, indeed, dismiss every person from the commission who entertained liberal sentiments; but he dismissed almost every one. He dismissed men who were not accused of any crime—men belonging to no faction, not taking any part in politics. And what did he do next, and that without any apology, knowing what was the state of the law in that country? The Legislative Council took care of that. Nay, the Government at home acknowledged that the Orange party there was so thoroughly ferocious that they were obliged to send out officers from this country to officer the militia in Canada.
At that time the sheriff of Montreal was appointed by the governor, and was subject to dismissal by him; the mere magistrates and judges also were made by the governor, and likewise subject to dismissal by him. Well, in this state of things he issued orders wholesale to try all the leaders of the people for high treason, on account of speeches which they had delivered full three months before. And what was it that those persons said? Precisely what every man of common sense would have said, that to be tried by a jury chosen by such a sheriff, and before such a judge, was nothing more nor less than condemnation before trial.
Every body knew (they had experience near home) what an Orange jury would do. The Canadians naturally said, "We are not willing to stand the result of such a trial," and as many of them as could consequently went away; and this was called running away—this was called dastardly! It was a most natural thing, but it seemed to him to be very easy to be valiant in other persons' places; but he should like that those persons who spoke thus of his friends over the water should be precisely in the same position with them.
They were said to be cowards and to have fled from those whom they excited to revolt. First and foremost, if they had staid in the country they would have been in prison, and then how could they have been with the people whom they were accused of deserting? If not with them how could they be said to have excited the people? and, furthermore, he wanted to know, they having gone out of the country, how it could be said that they excited the people?
But he would tell the House how those people were excited, and when they had heard their story, the House, he hoped, would have some consideration for the characters of those individuals of whom men spoke so glibly. The people of the district of Montreal, when they saw the necessity of their leaders being obliged to depart to avoid being arrested, and knowing that many others were likely to be taken up upon the same plea that the apprehension of those who escaped was sought for, because two affidavits only were all that was required for that purpose, said that no more writs should be executed there.
What did the magistrates of Montreal do, or rather what did the Attorney-General do? He got a party of militia men, chosen out of those Orange partisans whom he knew to be the very men of all others who most wanted to create a riot; men who had before petitioned to be enrolled in the rifle corps of Montreal; and they went out and arrested two respectable men. M. Demaray and M. D'Avignon. They chained these two men, put manacles on their hands, a chain on their feet, placed them in an open waggon, and he (Mr. Roebuck) had it upon the authority of one of the people that they put a halter round their necks. He was the more bound to believe that they did so because they so treated a respectable person, the son of the surveyor-general of that country, and while suffering under his wounds, and dragged him many miles through the district,
Well what did they do with Messrs. Demaray and D'Avignon? Instead of going direct to Montreal from the places where they were arrested, they actually paraded those persons throughout the excited district. What was the consequence? Just what they themselves expected: the peasantry rushed to arms and rescued the two men; whereupon the Government exclaimed, "We cannot suffer the law to be opposed in this way; we will send out an armed power."
They accordingly sent Colonel Gore to St. Denis, and Colonel Wetherall to Chambly, who were to join each other at St. Charles. At St. Denis the English troops were dispersed, but Colonel Wetherall arrived at St. Charles and the people were dispersed. And what was the consequence? Why, that an excess afterwards took place at St. Charles and St. Denis on the part of the soldiery, only to be equalled by the scenes of slaughter at Tarragona and Badajoz. Nay, he had received information from a magistrate of Lower Canada of his having sat in the midst of the most horrible scenes, and of being surrounded by the mangled bodies of those who had been slaughtered by the British troops—that those very bodies were the next morning eaten by the pigs—that many houses were plundered of all that was valuable in them, and that to his own knowledge those troops, in the insolence of their success, had committed every species of outrage which an infuriated soldiery were apt to commit, and this upon whom? Upon our own fellow-subjects.
The honour of the British soldier had been spoken of as involved in this affair; but that was not an expedition in which honour could be gained by British soldiers. No, they were acting as police; and all that they could possibly do would, at best, be but a painful duty. But horrors such as these, atrocities such as these, were not to be spoken of, because, forsooth, it would be tarnishing the lustre of the British arms. Thank God, he thought much better of the lustre of the British arms than to ascribe it to such deeds as these. What honour was there to be acquired in opposing and sacrificing an undisciplined body of men who were in an unhappy state of excitement at beholding those persons whom they were accustomed to look up to and revere, treated with every indignity that malice could suggest?
These undisciplined men being in arms, and in this state of excitement, did, undoubtedly, resist the well-disciplined troops of her Majesty, who thereupon proceeded to burn barns with men in them; and with their gallant commander at their head, to rush in upon an almost unarmed and, certainly, a most undisciplined body of peasantry, who were the subjects of the same Sovereign. And yet we were not to speak of these horrors, forsooth, but at the risk of being denounced as having no regard for the honour of the British army. He would repeat, that he had much more respect for the honour of that army than those who desired to have such services done by it.
To suppress a revolt was always a painful duty, but it must be performed. That duty might, however, be disgraced; and he would never be persuaded that the commanding officer had not sufficient power over so small a body as were then employed in Lower Canada as to prevent them from committing these excesses. He himself knew that booty was actually brought into Montreal and sold by the soldiers. They robbed the inhabitants, and why? Because some portion of the people were in arms. They did so, knowing that the House of Assembly was not sitting; that its members were scattered over various parts of the country to an extent of no less than 700 miles; and knowing, therefore, that they were not in authority at that time. It was most unworthy shuffling, then, to attempt to put upon their back the odium and the horror of this rebellion. The rebellion was brought about by Lord Gosford, by the colonial Government, and by the want of wisdom on the part of the rulers, and not by those men who had honestly maintained the character of the real representatives of the interests of their constituents.
But (said Mr. Roebuck) it is the habit everywhere now-a-days to speak of Mr. Papineau as being answerable for all that has befallen his country. Now, Sir, I am not one of those who have been in the habit of deserting a friend in need. In his most prosperous days I have thought myself honoured by the friendship of Mr. Papineau. I think myself so honoured now; and when I review the political career of that man, raised as he has been to eminence by the sole power of his intellect, without the employment of one single disgraceful proceeding, I look in vain through the whole of that career for one act which deserves reprobation. True it is that he denounced in strong language the conduct of your colonial administration. I myself have equally condemned that administration; and if there be guilt in saying that Canada has been ill-governed, that her grievances have been left unredressed, that her oppressors are men ever cruel, and now exasperated, I, Sir, am willing to partake of that guilt.
Talk to me of being frightened at being called a traitor; at being told that my life is forfeited; at the newspapers setting forth that I am to be sent to the Tower? Yes, the Government organs and other portions of the press have endeavoured to excite the people against me, and induce them to believe that I and my friends could desire that which England could view as dishonourable. Do you think that I am to be frightened by such petty warfare? If I be guilty why are there not some who dare accuse me lawfully? I want to know what is thought of the courage of those men who dare make these anonymous accusations, but have not the courage to support them by a criminal prosecution? My papers have been seized. Let them be produced. I have not run away; because I know that there is a jury in England who will render justice to the accused. Where is the ground of all this accusation? What I am anxious for is, to get laid before the people of this country whatever justification may be urged for all the persecutions that have been inflicted on the people of Lower Canada by the executive power.
I want to know upon what grounds a justification can be put forth for harassing, persecuting, and putting into gaol a whole body of men who have been the leaders of that people for a quarter of a century, upon the mere affidavits and partial statements of persons whom the executive Government know to have been suborned? And yet, with all this power in your hands, you proceed to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act and annul the constitution. It may be conceived that to suspend the constitution was a happy thought. It is an act you have long desired, but you dared not do it until you got the people frightened by your proceedings into a revolt. But why stop here? Why not suspend the constitution of Upper Canada? There is a revolt, and you have not heard the last of it. Why not suspend the constitution of Newfoundland? There is a stoppage of supplies, and you have not heard the last of it.
How comes it, by-the-by, that we never hear, through the medium of the Colonial-office, of some things that are taking place there as well as in Canada? How happens it that at the last election in Newfoundland you had cannon planted on the hill commanding the hustings, loaded with grape shot? If you deny these things, I tell you there are men here who can prove it; and yet you wonder that your colonies do not entertain a feeling of gratitude and consideration for—that happy metaphor of yours—the mother country!
Let me carry out your metaphor, and call her step-mother. If, after this statement which I have made, Gentlemen are still prepared to do what they are now called upon by the Government to do, I wish to know whether they will still say that any case has been made out against the House of Assembly. I address myself particularly in this case to that class of politicians who are, by favour, called Liberals. I want to know how they will distinguish these acts of power towards the people of Canada from those which were committed by this country previous to the American revolution?
"O!" says one, "we don't tax them." No; but you allow the House of Assembly to tax them, and then take their money when they have been taxed. And, furthermore, is it nothing to suspend the constitution? After taking away their money, you proceed to deprive them of their constitutional system, notwithstanding their approximation to a nation for whose institutions the Canadian people entertain the strongest predilection.
There is the same prevailing feeling in favour of the republican principle on the part of the various states of North America as there exists in Europe for the monarchical principle, or in the East for the despotic principle. Can you wonder, then, if there should arise in the United States a strong feeling of sympathy for those people who are now reduced to the crouching condition and to the servile state of slaves?
They are now to be governed by a governor in council—they who have been made to understand the full benefit of a representative Government; they who see that principle on the other side of an imaginary line constantly acting in full vigour, and in all peace and quietness.
Comparing themselves with those men, they say, "We are your equals: why should we be deprived of those institutions which we hold dear? Why? Because we are weak. If we were strong England would be just, but we are weak and she is unjust."
Sir, you have granted rights to those who knew their power, and who, knowing, used it. It was by the power of their arms that the United States of America became free. The best rights of this country have been gained by arms. You taught the people of Canada the very lesson they have now carried out. I myself have seen in this metropolis, things done, and heard things said, during the passing of the Reform Bill that, if you talk, of treason, were ten thousand times worse than anything that has been done in Canada. And who did those things? The Liberal party. Who consented to their being done, and profited by them? A Liberal Administration. And then you wonder at what is going on in Canada, and pretend to see a distinction which neither Washington nor Franklin could discover.
The people of Canada say to the people of the United States, "We are in the same position that you were formerly in, but unfortunately we are only one million, while you are thirteen." At the time of the revolution, indeed, the United States were but about three millions, but England is now an overwhelming power, while then she was not equal to combat with the world. Sir, can any one who reads the history of nations aright fail to condemn the impolicy of these proceedings?
I entreat this House to view the consequences that will naturally result from this disastrous question. I see on the other side of the St. Lawrence a nation now so powerful that we can hardly measure its extent; a nation, that has now dominion from Florida to the Lakes of Canada, and which, if we are wise, we shall take especial care has no increase of territory. If we are wise, we shall see and arrange all matters in Canada, and in our other North American possessions, so as to prepare them when a separation shall come, as come it must, to be an independent nation.
But if you treat them thus as you are now treating them, all their hopes will be centered in America, and unhappily all their alliances will be American; and when we lose Canada, as lose her one day or other we shall, she will merge in the United States, and then we shall see that nation stretching its power from the Gulf of Mexico to the northern pole, with their fleets in every sea, and her insolent dominion, over-riding every power: for men, whether tinder good or bad institutions, if you make them irresponsible, will be unjust. Then, in your turn, you will have to meet the injustice of too powerful America, in like manner as Canada has now to meet the injustice of too powerful England.
Sir, I am sorry that on me should devolve this great argument. I feel that I have wearied you. I feel that I have been inadequate to the great task which a nation's struggle has thrown upon me; but I hope, while I have addressed you that I have not forgotten, in the zeal of my advocacy, that I am one who was born of British blood. I have spoken from my heart as one whose whole interests are bound up in the honour and glory of my country. I feel that that honour and that glory are now at stake—not that factitious honour which is to be derived from power, or whatever is successful in possession and prosperity, but that honour which is to be derived from the wisdom, the justice, and the benevolence of our rule.
I find that the benevolence, the wisdom, and the justice of our rule are about to be infringed, and that all our American colonies that now remain to us will by and by in another page of history have to relate the calamitous story of this time similar to that which is already upon record; and then. Sir, as the last ship of England leaves that insulted coast, with its millions stretched along its shores shouting imprecations after her, you will feel, and not till then will you feel and know, your own injustice. Sir, I have done my duty.
The learned gentleman withdrew.
|This text is in the public domain worldwide either because its author died at least 100 years ago or because it was published by a public body. Translations published later may still be copyrighted.|